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The Need for a Detribalized Society to Counter Ethiopia’s Imperialist Designs

by Buri M. Hamza
Thursday, May 24, 2007

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Only a detribalized society can indeed strengthen the Somali national identity and thwart Ethiopia’s imperialist designs. In my previous article, “The Aftermath of Ethiopia’s Invasion: Somalia Reverting to Anarchy & TFG Slipping Further into Irrelevance.”  I drew our readers’ attention to, among other things, Ethiopia’s policy of clan manipulation in Somalia. This policy is not peripheral to Ethiopia’s agenda. It is a central tenet of Meles Zenawi’s political platform. Ethiopia’s policy of dismembering the Somali homogenous national identity is now defined in terms of political realism, not esoteric plans anymore.


Mario Raffaelli, the Italian Envoy to Somalia, in his recent article posted on a number of Somali Internet websites, has reiterated that Ethiopia “will continue to prefer the idea of a destabilized Somalia. The issue of Ogaden, the internal dissent that has risen following the last “free” elections, and the growing Muslim population inside Ethiopia, constitute part of the rationale for Ethiopia’s reluctance to allow the resuscitation of Somalia that is strong and capable of invoking an irredentist message”.


Building on Ambassador Raffaelli’s analysis, Meles Zenawi has invoked the tenacity of his predecessors, who had vowed to tear Somalia to shreds, as an inspiration for the current Tigrayan-dominated regime. And by selling to the US administration the idea that Somalia is a haven for Al-Qaeda, Meles Zenawi has received military as well as economic support from Washington, not necessarily to wipe out the Union of Islamic Courts and quell Al-Qaeda threats, but to use the American power to occupy Somalia and implement his clan-based balkanization strategy. For the Ethiopians, the re-emergence of Somali irredentism is tantamount to a renewed bid to disintegrate Ethiopia that is plagued by its devastating poverty and by its political and economic instability.


This short paper attempts to shed some light on Ethiopia’s tribalization policy of the Somali society. Ethiopia is deeply committed to the completion of the institution of “building blocs” in Somalia, and it is in line with its short and long-term fundamental interests. Dividing Somalia into small clan-based “building blocs” will weaken the country, stunt post-conflict peacebuilding and recovery efforts, and perpetuate chaos and state fragility.

The paper also aims at setting the records straight: a nation threatened by its arch enemy cannot counter this threat by tribal rhetoric stoked by disingenuous clan elders and greedy politicians inside the country and in the diaspora.


The Tribalization of the Somali Society


Somalia has since independence been haunted by the specter of clan politics. Post-independence governments have employed clan politics only to foment further divisiveness among the Somali people. The chaos generated as a result of the 16-year civil unrest and statelessness has induced a generalized metastasis of tribal cancer, ostensibly more malignant and virulent now than before. This evil specter has enhanced the country’s vulnerability and eased Ethiopia’s infiltration into the heart of the capital city of Somalia.


Yes, into the heart of the capital city of Somalia – symbol of the nation’s pride. Mogadishu has been deeply hurt by the psychotic outbursts and rants of tribal stupidity. Mogadishu has been let down by the very people it has harboured, nurtured, fed, and protected.  Mogadishu, which has given birth to an independent and united Somalia, is now debilitated and is literally in tears. The quintessential “Mogadisciani” – so outraged and so distressed – are profusely shedding tears of grief and sadness as they witness the destruction of their ancestral home.


Ethiopia has long ago recognized that to destabilize Somalia and prevent the re-constitution of the Somali state, it has to contain the growth of Somali nationalism and nurture clan polarizations to perpetuate divisiveness and bloc the mobilization of the national resources that can foil its agendas.

Ethiopia’s propaganda aided by the local and international media has succeeded in portraying the resistance in Mogadishu as an insurgency mounted by the Hawiye clan, or perhaps by certain Hawiye sub-clans. The military officers of the US-backed occupying forces have since the beginning of invasion maintained sustained “confidence-building” operations with some of the elders of the Hawiye clan in Mogadishu. They have resorted to the carrot-or-sticks approach to entice these elders to accept coexistence with the occupiers or succumb to the inevitable military retaliation with all the other unpleasant consequences that the stick carries. They have painted the resistance with tribal colors and have coercively shrouded the Somali national and patriotic sentiments with their false pretenses and deceits.

The extensive coverage accorded to the meetings convened between the Ethiopian generals and Hawiye elders has enabled the occupying forces to dub the resistance “a clan-based insurgency”. And the fact that certain clan elders in Mogadishu have blinked and caved in to the occupying forces’ intimidations, perhaps under duress, has indeed sent mixed signals to the Somali people all over.

Supporters of the TFG inside the country and in the diaspora – for reasons perceived to be tribal – have welcomed the occupation of the Ethiopian forces. Their perceived clan-driven support of the unjust occupation, as macabre and poignant as it is, appears to be deeply rooted in the clan animosity and hatred that has heightened during    and before the onset of the civil war. Their tenacity as to the imperative necessity of wiping out the “terrorists” and the “notorious obstructionists” of peace and stability in Mogadishu and its environs, does, according to them, justify the deployment of Ethiopian troops, even if that contravenes with the sacred principles of the nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. These supporters contend also that Ethiopia’s intervention was “essentially imperative” to subdue the Union of Islamic Courts’ forces that were a threat to the government of Abdullahi Yusuf and Ali Mohamed Ghedi.


WardheerNews, always with a reputation to speak up for Somali unity and territorial integrity, has in its recent editorial said:


The TFG and its supporters arguably invited Ethiopia to fend off against the UIC militia advancing to Baydhaba, the seat of the TFG at the time. But the argument does not justify the cruel and destructively overwhelming fire power which Ethiopia unleashed in the heavily populated city of Mogadishu. And how does one justify the invasion of Ethiopia of the nation’s inner sanctum and pride? (And that is what Mogadishu stands for most Somalis.).


WardheerNews continued with the following rather emotional excerpt of its editorial:

We could feel the agony and pain of the only surviving pre-Siyad Barre leader (former Prime Minister Abdirazak Haji Hussein) who is  confronted with living through these humiliating days experienced by the nation state and its people he helped create. Who ever thought that the seat of President Aden Abdullah Osman, the first African President who stepped down after losing an election and perhaps Africa’s genuine democrat, would be claimed with brute force by Zenawi of Ethiopia? In the absence of the visionary patriots from the political scene, Somalia is left at the mercy of scrupulous warlords, clan politicians and an opportunistic, yet cunning neighbour.


But I should be extremely cautious as to the pitfalls of over-generalizations. The alleged support of this group for the invasion of the Ethiopian forces – as I said is perceived to be clan-driven – must not be construed as being the position of the vast majority of the clan families of the group. The great majority of these clan families have shown a great sense of nationalism and patriotism, especially during the years of the struggle for independence. Moreover, their allegiance to the sanctity of the Somali cause has never been questioned.

I should also state that I have come across a group of Somalis that is seemingly oblivious about the Ethiopian invasion. This insouciance is fairly palpable among this group of Somalis. This group – Somalis predominantly from Old Benadir, Lower Shebelle, Bay and Bakool, and Juba Valley – is still silent and apathetic.


I have been wondering whether this quiet and sullen mood exhibited by this group of Somalis may have anything to do with the grievances and injustices sustained during the 16 years of the Somali civil war. And whether their claim of murder, rape, harassment, and the expropriation of their properties and assets by their fellow compatriots, as they were fleeing their areas, constitute a reasonable motive for this apathy and insouciance.


Notwithstanding the bitterness and grudges this group of Somalis harbour for their compatriots who have allegedly committed injustices to them following the outbreak of the civil strife, I can with all certainty state that a substantially significant number of Somalis from Old Benadir, Lower Shebelle, Bay and Bakool, and Juba Valley are profoundly appalled by the massacre unleashed by the Ethiopian forces and the seemingly ensuing genocide. There is, therefore, nothing that warrants obliviousness about the occupation of one’s country by its arch enemy. Ethiopia’s occupation of Somalia is a menace to every Somali, regardless of his/her clan identity.


The Need for a Detribalized Society


Ethiopia has succeeded, through corrupt clan politicians and unscrupulous warlords, to erect clan-based “building blocs” in certain regions of the country. It is yet to announce the completion of the institution of similar “blocs” in Benadir, Lower Shebelle and the Juba Valley. But it won’t be a long way off before this is finalized. It will be accomplished while the unscrupulous clan elders and greedy politicians are busy wrangling over the dividends accrued as a result of Ethiopia’s occupation of Somalia.


Tribal dispensation will lead us nowhere in this very crucial period in the history of Somalia. Members of the Ad Hoc Committee of the Minneapolis-based Somali Community in North America, has recently said, “The clan reflex is not sufficient to mobilize our massive political and cultural resources. Although the bulk of the daily humiliation, intimidation, and atrocity are visited upon the citizens of Mogadishu, the call for action to resist is for all Somalis wherever they are. The occupying foreign forces are obviously relying on this wedge and are already self-congratulating themselves for its success. We have to commit ourselves to prove them wrong.”




To win the hearts and minds of all Somalis and engage them in the noble tasks of our country’s liberation, there is a compelling need for us to counter the apathy, insouciance, and indifference that are palpable among many Somalis, inside the country and in the diaspora. Those who are responsible for the mistakes made since the beginning of the Somali civil war should not shy away from acknowledging so. Dismissing allegations of torture and crime against fellow citizens will only weaken the renaissance of hope for the people of Somalia.

The current dismal reality unfolding in Somalia has clear historical roots, and a journey into the near past may help elucidate what lies behind the naked support of Ethiopia’s invasion and the obliviousness of certain groups. It is unacceptable to wage a clan-based campaign against foreign invaders. Clan-driven resistance movements will only deepen the divide among Somalis inside the country and in the diaspora and embolden Ethiopia’s imperialist designs.


 To the TFG supporters: the Ethiopian occupying forces are in Somalia to stay to fulfill their government’s agenda. To believe that they are there to bail the beleaguered government out of its predicament is nothing but a wishful thinking.

  *Buri Hamza is a freelance researcher in peacebuilding and environmental governance. His email address is [email protected]

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